ON A WELLWORN BUT IMPROPER NOUN

As I was telling my wife this morning I have this ache of compassion for people without the resources to express what they think of a person whose behavior falls short of what we expect of, what we assume, and all secretly believe a human being to be capable of. "Asshole", the word that issues from our mouths most readily and has come to greater and greater use in the grand cacophony of human speech, within all strata of society and among children of all ages, seems painfully inadequate. Worse, it reflects too much upon the person sounding the very fetid, flaming word. People deserve a better noun.

So, I suggested to my wife that a word—which welled up out of my past days upon the pavements of Brooklyn—a word like "manhole" would be more suitable, more meaningful, and redolent of a certain metaphysical rightness. After all, a man not living up to his possible humanness is empty, possessed of a hole that should be filled with the substance of humanity. "Yes, manhole," she laughed, and then, going me one better, suggested that "manhole" would be in very neat contrast to what each man should be aiming for: to become a "whole" man, that is a "man-whole ".  ...A very pretty woman. Yes?

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